NEW DELHI, 26 March 2009: UNICEF has completed the 15-month long Community-Based Disaster Preparedness (CBDP) project in West Bengal, India. About US$ 400,000 million (280,000 Euro) contribution for this intervention was provided by the Disaster Preparedness Programme of European Commissions Humanitarian Aid (DIPECHO) under its 4th Action Plan for South Asia.
UNICEF’s global experience has demonstrated that community-based risk reduction efforts, which are approached from a social and behaviour change perspective, will ensure that children and families understand the simple and practical actions required to protect lives and personal properties in the case of natural disasters. UNICEF-supported CBDP projects are excellent examples of mainstreaming of practices which effectively lead toward empowering communities and their capacity to deal with disasters, with due attention on specific vulnerabilities and needs of women and children.
While the history of UNICEF’s CBDP interventions in West Bengal dates back to 2000, DIPECHO provided the single largest and most important contribution to CBDP efforts. CBDP West Bengal has since become a model project.
The principal objective of the DIPECHO project in West Bengal was to reduce disaster risk by empowering vulnerable communities in disaster-prone areas to be better prepared to cope with and take action to effectively reduce the adverse impact of floods. The specific objective was to assist vulnerable rural families in 7 chronically flood-affected districts of the West Bengal state to be better prepared to effectively face the flood hazards.
These objectives were achieved – along with government and NGO partners - through a process of identifying vulnerable groups/people through Participatory Learning and Action (PLA), forming task force groups (e.g. early warning, health and first aid, water and sanitation, safety, rescue and relief, etc), preparing family and child survival kits, participating in mock drills and taking common action for preparedness as a community. Over 1 million vulnerable populations have benefited from this contribution.
Through this project, UNICEF highlighted that “promoting traditional coping mechanisms” is the sustainable way forward to reduce vulnerability and mainstream CBDP to accountability to immediately address the genuine needs of the most vulnerable communities. In order to mainstream CBDP, the project identified and adapted natural mitigation measures, and internalised the practice into process in the local context. For example: promotion of natural swimming skills as means to save lives during floods; encouraging women to make banana rafts (“bhela”) as traditional rescue boats; motivating communities to make small scale metal boat (“shalti”) for mitigation; providing low-cost training skills to women self-help groups to make and market adult/baby life jackets; etc.
The project contributed to reducing loss of lives and related risks by making vulnerable people self resilient and helping in strengthening community coping mechanism through capacity building at the grass root level. Further, it constantly advocated for building the capacities of the key stakeholders through creating an enabling policy environment.
In November 2008, UNICEF organised a three-day Conference on Community-based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) with regional participation. It hosted around 140 participants, including representatives from the West Bengal government and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), UN agencies, Red Cross Society, NGOs and delegates from DIPECHO delegates. The DG ECHO Coordinator and Advisor for South Asia was a key speaker at the Conference. As a part of the conference programme, participants visited UNICEF CBDP project areas in two districts and interacted with NGO partners and communities. The conference has contributed towards further promoting CBDRR initiatives in India, improving regional collaboration among practitioners and strengthening UNICEF global disaster risk reduction policies.
Among several DG ECHO’s contributions to UNICEF’s disaster preparedness interventions in India, as part of a growing partnership which started in late 2006, this was the very first DIPECHO contribution in the country. UNICEF is grateful to ECHO for its generous support, which allowed for reducing vulnerabilities, alleviating suffering, and reducing losses of lives and assets among the most vulnerable and socially disadvantaged communities in West Bengal.